The Film (4.5/5)
Westerns have played an important part of our cinematic culture. For me, when I think of the word ‘Western’, for some reason John Wayne is the first person I think of. Probably because he starred in what felt like dozens of Western films. Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to watch for the first time and now review on my second viewing, a film that I and possibly many others would consider to be one of the all-time best Westerns, and no, it doesn’t have John Wayne in it. This movie does have a great cast with both current and future big name actors including Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, Harry Morgan, and Harry Davenport to name a few. The film I’m referring to is none other than the powerful Western with a touch of drama and Noir called The Ox-Bow Incident.
The story is about two drifters Art and Gil (Morgan and Fonda) who join a posse who are out to lynch the alleged murder of a rancher named Larry Kinkaid, who was also the victim of cattle rustling. Because the sheriff is out of town (Sheriff Risley, played by Willard Robertson), the deputy sheriff takes charge. He forms a posse which also includes Major Tetley (Frank Conroy) and his son Gerald Tetley (William Eythe). Before they go after the murderers, a debate begins on what should actually be done with them – do they get a fair trial or do they get hanged? The majority of the townspeople and posse prefer that they be killed without a trial. The posse rides to Ox-Bow Canyon where they see three men sleeping with what they believe are stolen cattle. Awakened by their arrival, the three men, Juan Martinez (Anthony Quinn), Donald Martin (Dana Andrews), Alva Hardwicke (Francis Ford) get the third degree by the posse. Even though Donald, who appears to be the most rational, tells his story, exclaiming that neither he, nor he companions had anything to do with the murder of Larry Kinkaid, nobody believes him. Major Tetley demands that they be hanged, but he is opposed by Gil, Art, Davies (Harry Davenport who was in the timeless classic It’s a Wonderful Life) Gerald Tetley and three others. A vote is taken to have the three accused killers – and the majority votes to have them hanged. The same seven voted to have the three given a fair trial. The three men get hanged at dawn, and shortly thereafter Sheriff Risley arrives on the scene to tell the posse that Larry Kinkaid isn’t dead after all. Everyone except for the seven who voted for a fair trial will be in big trouble. What happens next is very startling.
This movie, after only two viewings, to me is an incredible classic, with great direction, and excellent performances by everyone. The lack of music helps with the dark overtones of this movie. It’s a dark film to say the least. The Ox-Bow Incident seems to give a message about violence, about people who are ready to kill people that might not even be guilty of murder. It was amazing that Major Tetley and the posse just assumed that they were guilty, that he wasn’t willing to give them chance to defend themselves in a fair trial, and was completely stubborn. Perhaps, this was a message of how things were in the old west, with bloodthirsty pig-headed, narrow-minded cowboys looking for a reason to kill, which, unfortunately is still alive and killing in real modern day life, except it’s not cowboys on horseback; it’s much worse.
The Ox-Bow Incident has many terrific actors involved, including Henry Fonda, who is one of the all-time greats whose career spanned over four decades and starred in many great classics such as Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, Mister Roberts, Fail Safe and On Golden Pond. Dana Andrews soon became a household name, appearing in many great Film Noirs such as Boomerang, Fallen Angel, and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Harry Morgan as many know went on many other classics before becoming Dr. Sherman Potter in the MASH TV series.
The Ox-Bow Incident debuts on blu ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and it is way above average. It is presented in 1:33:1, boasting a new 4K transfer, with an MPEG 4 AVC encode. The film’s image quality is excellent overall. It’s a little soft in some places, but overall this is a great looking Blu-ray. Black levels are solid; the grey scale is perfectly fine. Overall it’s a clean, smooth image with just a few minor speckles here and there. This movie is over 70 years old, and it’s amazing how good this movie looks in high definition.
The audio quality for the movie is the usual Kino DTS-HD Master Audio English 2.0. The dialog and other sounds such as gunfire, horses riding are perfectly clear with no audio issues found
Kino provides us with some cool supplements for The Ox-Bow Incident; there is an audio commentary by Western Scholar Dick Eulain and William Wellman Jr., Henry Fonda: Hollywood's Quiet Hero, 2002 Restoration Dem, and a theatrical trailer
The Ox-Bow Incident is a magnificent film, showing a very dark side of the old west that to me is ahead of its time. Of course I am not all that intimate with the Westerns genre, but out of all the ones I’ve seen, this one is not only dark, but sends a message about our society. It’s also the best Western I’ve seen to date. A film this great, with excellent picture quality, excellent audio quality and a sufficient amount of extras makes this a terrific release. This is highly recommended to not just fans of the Western genre, but fans of film in general. This should be on everyone’s Blu-ray shelf!